Your regularly scheduled happy-go-lucky posts on this blog will resume shortly. However, in honour of Mental Health Awareness Week** in Canada coming up (October 4th-10th), and also in honour of today being my first day as someone with a prescription for a medication to treat a mental illness, I am writing a post on this blog that is very near and dear to my heart.
Let me start by giving you a bit of background. I have suffered, undiagnosed, from various bouts of severe depression and several forms of anxiety, for most of my adolescent and adult life. There could be a number of hypothetical reasons for this: My parents divorced when I was young, I was bullied in middle school, I went through a long-distance relationship which terminated in a very messy and public breakup, or maybe I just had a hormonal/genetic tendency towards these traits. Sure, these may have all been contributing factors to my disease[s], but I’m more concerned with, and want to explain why I was too afraid to seek help until very recently.
I wanted to write this piece in order to be a voice for people all around the world like me, who suffer from depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness. We don’t exactly have people dumping buckets of freezing cold ice water over their heads in our honour. We are probably some of the least likely people in the world to be vocal about our needs, because we don’t want anyone to know just how terrible we feel. We feel like we are expected to put on a brave face and go about our business like everything is normal, when really, it’s so completely not.
I see a lot of articles, stories, and other pieces of writing by folks who have been diagnosed with a mental illness, sought treatment, and are now leading successful, fulfilling lives, or have come so far from when they first began their battle. It’s rare that I see one written from the perspective of someone like me, who is still attempting to navigate the dark tunnel, or cave, or forest, or gross sewer system (choose whichever metaphor you prefer and use it in proper places throughout the rest of this article) that is a mental illness in the dark, or with a flashlight that keeps going out intermittently. And there’s probably a simple explanation for that…
It’s not that we don’t WANT to find the way out of that tunnel, and into the light of success, happiness, and fulfillment. It’s that attempting to navigate the tunnel feels like an extremely daunting, and probably impossible task, which will probably be filled with A LOT of obstacles, and we’ve programmed our brains to believe that we won’t be able to face head them on anyways. Maybe we’re also afraid that no one will believe us, or that they won’t be able to understand our situation. So we convince ourselves that it’s not worth trying in the first place.
And we keep doing this. We do it for days, and then weeks, months, maybe even years. Our loved ones might tell us that it’s such an easy tunnel to navigate once you get started, and they might be right. We might even agree with them. But to us, who are still in the middle of the tunnel, it just doesn’t feel that way. They might tell us that the worst thing we can do it try to navigate the tunnel by ourselves, and that we need to remember to get help from someone we love and trust. But to us, the idea of bringing someone else in to see us in such a horrifying and traumatizing place is just as terrible a thought as having to navigate through it ourselves.
So we continue to sit, or lay, in the tunnel, watching murky water drip from the ceiling onto our foreheads.
But a couple of weeks ago, something happened to me. I’m not sure when or how, but some little voice in my brain finally got through to me even the tiniest bit. It said that enough was enough. And yeah, I’ve been telling myself that for years now, what else is new? But for some reason, this time, it actually resonated. So I did it. I did the thing that all 20-somethings cower in fear over doing.
I made a doctor’s appointment.
….Okay, I actually called my mother and asked her to make me an appointment. Not quite there yet, but still, calling my mother and telling her that I wanted to speak to a doctor because for years I had thought about what it would be like to commit suicide was a big enough step for me.
Fast forward to today, I sat in the doctor’s office for what felt like 2 seconds as she told me what I was feeling was totally normal for someone fresh out of college, wrote me a prescription, and told me I was going to be feeling better in no time. Is it really that easy? Part of me really wanted to hope so.
However, a larger part of me felt pretty put off by the notion that this absolutely crippling condition I’ve been battling for what feels like eternity, was just a normal occurrence in a lot of people’s lives once they are chucked into the real world of adulthood.
Because, no, I don’t feel normal. As a matter of fact, I feel the complete opposite of normal when I have to call loved ones and cancel our plans because I just don’t have it in me to get out of bed. I feel nothing like ordinary when the thought of going to work every day makes me want to get hit by a car, so I deliberately choose not to apply for jobs and sink further into my hobbit hole of unemployment. And lastly, no, I do not feel like everyone else when I watch my friends, colleagues, and peers achieving their goals and reaching such great heights in their lives, and I can’t even coax myself out of eating a whole chocolate bar for breakfast.
To me, these are not ways that a normal, healthy person deals with life. These are the symptoms of someone with a disease, that has so often been pushed to the side, and that is begging to be treated.
So, folks, if there is anything you can walk away from here knowing today about how to talk to someone with mental illness, it’s this: please, oh please do not talk to us about how common our disease is, and how easy it is to manage. You may just be trying to reassure us, and you may even be right. But we hear is that we are even more pathetic for not having been able to have dealt with it sooner.
What you CAN do for us?
Let us know that you love us no matter what, and that you’ll be there whenever we are ready to help ourselves get better. We might not be ready just yet, but when we are, we will let you know, and we will be so grateful that you stuck around.
My struggle with depression and anxiety were one of my biggest factors in making the decision to start a blog. I had recently become unemployed after quitting a restaurant job that gave me absolutely zero fulfillment. I had isolated myself almost completely from all my loved ones, except for my boyfriend with whom I share an apartment. When said boyfriend began his post-secondary journey this fall, I knew I would be spending virtually all my time alone. I wanted a place to express my thoughts, reach out to other people with similar interests, and maybe even help other people out of their tunnels along the way.
Maybe, in a year’s time if I finally have a hold on managing my disease, my views on this subject will be different. But right now, I just want to leave you with one request:
Please don’t call me normal.
p.s. I would really like to hear all of your opinions on this subject. Be sure to leave a comment and let me know about your experience with mental illness, or your experience dealing with someone who suffers from mental illness, or just your thoughts in general!
I am ALWAYS here to talk to anyone who is struggling and needs help.
**P.P.S. Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) in Canada is put on by an amazing group called the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health. Be sure to visit them online HERE, and tweet them this article at @MIAWCanada, so that we can get the word out about breaking down the Mental Health stigma!